To complete this essay it is important to indicate to the reader my understanding of how income and work are regarded as key sociological perspectives when discussing identity. Because of their place within the structure of society income and work are quite often linked to social class which in turn is synonymous with issues of equality… power and wealth.
In order to present a viable argument regarding the effect that income and work have on determining ones identity I will endeavour to illustrate the theoretical concepts provided from a sociological perspective and debate their role in identity creation.This will include an examination of how changes in society have impacted the way equality… power and wealth are perceived to have changed our collective and individual identity. In my conclusion I will revisit the key points of my discussion and offer a critical analysis of the same. Identity (Income & Work) There is widespread agreement among social scientists that work and income are critical factors when we attempt to resolve the issue surrounding the source of our identity and the identities of those around us.According to Woodward “the pattern of employment and the distribution of incomes are both important structures that shape our identity” as “it presumes a relationship between a person’s occupation and his or her identity” (Woodward 2004 p.
80). Often as not people that enjoy the benefit of being in paid employment are seen (by themselves and others) as somewhat differently to those that are not. Relatively speaking they would appear to enjoy a position of privilege even though they might themselves be disadvantaged in the workplace by gender… lass and low levels of income. They would however share a collective identity with those they work with which can be long or short term and they may also choose to represent themselves as anything but poor when they consider the social stigma that is ascribed to it. However.
.. poverty in today’s society is a relative concept that is marked by the “goods, services and opportunities.
.. that are … available to the non-poor” (Woodward 2004 p. 85).So societies perception of those workers indicated above may already be identified as falling into the ‘poor’ category as a result of their buying power or the lack of it.
.. or as Woodward puts it “Our identities are, therefore influenced by the shape of the income distribution..
. and… “whether we see our incomes as polarised between rich and poor” (Woodward 2004 p. 87).
But what about those people that don’t work or do unpaid work? How do they identify themselves?Those that are in receipt of income support or from low income families quite often struggle to ‘make ends meet’. According to the Rowntree studies many live in ‘fear’ and ‘shame’ of having to do without although interestingly many would also resist the stigmatisation of being branded as poor even though the studies also indicate that “the number of people living at or below the Income Support ‘poverty line’ is frequently used as one definition of those counted as ‘poor’ in the UK” (Woodward 2004 p. 83). Identity (Structural/Social & Class Changes)Irrespective of whether or not you are a disciple of Marx or Weber regarding the issue that class plays in societal structure there is no denying the role that it assumes when it comes to the formation of identity.
Social scientists have often used the notion of class as an index of the factors that influence “the life chances and identities of those who share a class position” (Woodward 2004 p. 21) and if that class position happens to be what is commonly referred to as ‘working class’ then society would see identity and identity formation as a more obvious characteristic.Of course this is not to say that those who are regarded as ‘working class’ did not (1) readily equate themselves with the identity of their class and (2) recognise the structural processes and changes that could/would inevitably impact their individual and collective identities. John Greaves’ account of his working life in the Yorkshire coalmines is littered with examples of how his identity and that of his community changed as a consequence of the structural and economic changes that was visited upon the coal mining industry during the 1980’s.
Whole communities went through a considerable transformation as their lifestyle… occupation and opportunity identities all changed dramatically due to the adverse economic and structural factors that influenced the work they done and the income they received (source John Greaves taken from Woodward ‘Questioning Identity’ 2004). However in today’s social structure the argument against the existence of a ‘working class’ and its relational significance through income was taken up in 1999 by none other than the then Prime Minister Tony Blair when he remarked “..
. he old establishment is being replaced by a new, larger, more meritocratic middle class… a middle class that traditionally may see themselves as working class” (Tony Blair, quoted in the Guardian, 15th January 1999 p.
3). Although this paper is not about the structure of class within society there are however correlations between class..
. income and work and a sociological understanding that all have the propensity to shape our individual and/or shared identities. The argument as to which bears the greater weight when it comes to identity construction is not without its differences.Social commentators like Saunders point to..
. “consumption processes and differences in lifestyle”… that had .
.. “become more important than occupation-based class in the constructing identities” (Saunders 1984)… while critics would point to the lack of evidence regarding this view and favour the traditional theory concerning occupation and income in identity formation. From a personal point of view I would suggest that it is impossible to confine identity as being one or the other but if a choice had to be made then I would be in favour of the argument that since work-based identities have become more and more insecure.
.. dentity formation is reduced from the collective to the individual which in turn is based on the premise of income and work. Conclusion On the evidence presented I would be inclined to believe that we see ourselves for ‘what we are worth’ and what that ‘worth’ permits us to do or not do..
. in other words it becomes ” the relative and relational nature of work and income as sources of identity” (Woodward 2004 p. 111). I would also suggest that we would reject the notion of being poor (regardless of income) if we were able to participate in a reasonable rate of consumption.
It is my view that the theory of income and work being key sources of identity is governed largely by perception rather than fact. Indicators such as living on the ‘poverty line being used as a yardstick to define poverty comes up short in value considering the outcomes of some claimant surveys. Income and work are important features of identity but because of their uncertainty and fluidity they will never be set in stone.